Sauna is an integral part of Finish culture. Even though I had read quite a lot about Finnish culture and tradition, I was little intimidated about actually trying sauna while in Finland, considering my shy nature. In fact, I didnt even carry my swimming costume.
But over the breakfast table, while discussing about Sauna with my co-traveller friends, the excitement built up within me and I didnt want to be missed out on this opportunity. One of my co-travellers and myself did not have the swimming costume and hence it was a task to find a decent swimming costume at reasonable rates in the Helsinki market. We were hopping from one store to another. But there was no swimming costume considering the winter season. Finally in one of the shops we could find one and that was a relief, as we were eager to experience it. One of the store attendant told us that Finnish prefer to go naked in a sauna, but she would understand if we would prefer to wear swimming costume. Sauna in Finland is a tradition and they take it seriously. Even though sauna provides an opportunity to physically and mentally relax, it is not a mere luxury. It has scientific significance. It helps to have good blood circulation especially during the harsh winters.
My first sauna experience in Finland was in Helsinki. We visited the Loyly sauna center located on the Helsinki harbour. It is a beautiful centre, with a unique architecture. Being beside the water front, it provides the option of ocean dip sauna. This was actually the triggering factor in desperately wanting to try out the sauna experience. We were provided with a towel, a napkin ( to sit upon in the sauna room) and a locker key. Loyly has mixed sauna facility i.e. both men and women use sauna in the same room. But still the changing and shower rooms are separate. Being a mixed sauna, a swimming costume was compulsory.
Typical Sauna Cycle:
- Changing clothes and getting into swimming costume / naked as traditionally done by Finnish.
- Having a shower. This is to ensure hygiene factor.
- Entering the sauna room which is typically warmed to 80 C. Public saunas are usually electric saunas, which involves heating stones to generate heat. Heat is sustained by throwing water on the stones. Other types of saunas are wood sauna, smoke sauna, snow sauna.
- Whenever the temperature in the room decreases, we need to throw water on the stones to increase the heat in the sauna room. Heat derived in this manner is known as “Loyly” in Finland.
- Bask in the heat of the sauna.
- Once the heat is uncomfortable, cool down by having a cold shower/jump in the ocean,sea,lake,swimming pool.. whichever option is available. At Loyly, we were lucky to experience the ocean dip option. From 80 C, to running out in the -2 C temperature, and finally getting a dip in the bone chilling ocean water, was an experience of a life time.
- After cooling from this first bath, we again went to the hot sauna room. This cycle continues several time. We were excited about the ocean dip experience and hence continues this for about 5 times in a single evening.